LISTEN: A new report finds chronic underfunding of the nation’s public health system is leaving states — including Georgia — unprepared to deal with increasing needs. It recommends a large increase in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget. GPB’s Ellen Eldridge has more.

Preventing obesity could help Georgia health care outcomes, but public health is chronically underfunded, a report from Trust for America's Health says.

Preventing obesity could help Georgia health care outcomes, but public health is chronically underfunded, a report from Trust for America's Health says.

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Georgia needs more federal funding to bolster the public health workforce and modernize the systems that the health departments need to be able to fight 21st century diseases and conditions, according to an annual report from the Trust for America’s Health organization.

While the state receives funding from the University of Georgia to look at obesity levels in certain areas, there is no statewide funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund key programs for emergency preparedness and chronic disease prevention.

While deaths owed to drug misuse, alcohol, or suicide trail the country, the percentage of adult Georgians with obesity is higher than the U.S. median. Rates of diabetes and hypertension also rank high in the state and across the South.

Obesity is considered a body mass index of 30 or greater. In Georgia, 33.9% of adults are obese, and the state receives no federal funding for prevention programs.

The United States spends over $4 trillion a year on health care, and most of that goes toward treating disease. But only 4% to 5% goes to preventing disease and outbreaks like we've experienced over the last few years, said Dara Lieberman, who co-authored the TFAH report.

The COVID-19 crisis illuminated weaknesses in the nation’s public health infrastructure, including just how ill-equipped the system is to protect Americans’ health and prepare for future emergencies and ongoing epidemics.

“The funding that we have for fighting obesity across the country is inadequate compared to the crisis,” Lieberman said.

The report finds that the nation must maintain higher funding levels on a year-to-year basis and invest in planning, workforce, and infrastructure long before a crisis arises.

“Neglecting to do so is tantamount to recruiting firefighters and procuring hoses and protective equipment while a wildfire is burning,” TFAH said.

Over the past decade, the CDC's budget has only risen by 6% after adjusting for inflation.

Also, federal COVID relief funds are running out.

“That emergency, short-term money does not build the underlying system or fix those long-standing problems,” Leiberman said.

As soon as health experts succeed at controlling a disease, then the funding for that fight goes down, Leiberman said.

“It is a pattern we see over and over again,” she said.

TFAH is calling for a 26% increase in the CDC’s overall budget because that's the main source of funding for public health departments across Georgia and across the country.

If approved, the CDC's budget would rise from $9.2 billion to $11.6 billion.

“There's a high return on investment if we actually just invest in the root causes of diseases and try to keep people healthy in the first place,” Leiberman said. 

She suggested building the public health workforce as a start.